A total of eight Bismarck schools sheltered in place at various times on Thursday in response to an officer-involved shooting in northwest Bismarck.
The shelter-in-place notifications came throughout the day, the first order came for five schools — Century High School, Horizon Middle School and Liberty, Northridge and Centennial elementary schools — and lasted for about two hours. Then, in the early afternoon, three schools — Simle Middle School and Miller and Murphy elementary schools — were also advised to shelter in place. All schools were dismissed at their normal times.
Some parents took to social media with more questions than answers about the shelter-in-place alerts. One parent said it was unnerving that the notifications lacked detail, and the initial alert told parents that a "male individual in a 2013 black Chevy Equinox fired shots" on Montreal Street near Century High School. The district responded after sending out the alert, saying that information was not confirmed. Bismarck Police later said it was the officer who fired the shots.
Shannon Keller-Becker was at work when she got the alert on her phone about the shelter in place at her children's schools. She has a 12-year-old daughter who attends Horizon Middle School and a son in kindergarten at Liberty Elementary School.
"I was thinking what most parents would think, 'Oh my gosh, what is going on? Are my kids in danger right now? Has there been a shooting? Is there somebody in the school?' I just don’t think that (the notification) gives you enough information," she said. "As a mother, my insides are going crazy."
She didn’t call the district, but instead went on social media looking for answers. What she found were a lot of posts from others who also were looking for more information, in addition to a number of rumor mongers.
Keller-Becker said she understands why few details were released, as to not cause panic among parents, but she still wishes she would’ve gotten more information, specifically whether her children were in direct danger.
"There’s all sorts of information flying everywhere, and so you don’t know what to believe," she said. "It’s just very alarming to get an alert like that and not have a place to go for answers."
Bismarck Public Schools indicated it works closely with law enforcement when there's a threat to student and staff safety. Becky LaBella, safety coordinator for the district, said her office received information Thursday that there was an individual and that shots had been fired.
"(The district) responds according to the information we get," said LaBella, conceding that sometimes information given to law enforcement and then school officials could be inaccurate.
The multiple schools sheltered in place Thursday prompts questions about what exactly is a shelter in place. LaBella said a shelter in place differs from a lockdown, which is in response to an immediate threat to student and staff safety. A shelter in place is when there is not an immediate threat to student or staff safety, and instead it is taken as a precautionary measure.
The district works closely with law enforcement to decide which measure to take and when to lift a shelter in place or lockdown. During a shelter in place, students are kept inside and classes resume as normal. On Thursday, students were allowed to move about the building. Parents also are allowed to pick up their students if the school building is not within a parameter that police have blocked off.